Ahead of the candy cane panto season, a spiky shot of strong theatrical aniseed is appealing. And since the flyer for Firebrand’s first production outside of the Scottish Borders indelicately mentions the elephant in the room, it has to be said that besides the soft tones of Blythe Duff’s well recognised voice, there is no trace of Taggart’s Jackie Reid to be found in this version of Rona Munro’s Iron. Instead, we encounter a fascinating lead character institutionalised by a crime of passion.

When 25-year-old Josie’s paternal grandmother dies, the unwrapped joys of her jet-setting lifestyle betray the gaping hole left by her father’s murder. Finding herself hopelessly roaming hotels, Josie (Irene Allan) decides to visit her estranged mother, Fay (Duff), in prison.

Migraine-inducing lights and tinny jailhouse sound effects set the mood. The next layer is the arrival, ten minutes ahead of kick-off, of two prison guards who oppress us with a stern security presence, guarding the auditorium of the Tron Theatre and trapping Josie, warning her that she “will not find fairness here”.

The performance gets off to a rocky start, opening with a minefield of clichés and some broadly drawn sing-song characters, but this initial flatness soon gives way to a rapid intensification, aided by the harmonious blend of metallic music, effects and choreography that marks the end of each scene. As mother and daughter are reunited there is some welcome dry humour and the repetitious dialogue forms a steady rhythm, a soothing undercurrent as we are drawn into and fooled by Fay’s manipulation. Deliciously vivid descriptions cause the colour to flood back into the stark, clinical set and as life meets life-sentence, Fay suffers extreme bouts of vertigo. We see explosive flashes of her personality in Josie like a warning overture.

Everything we are told is under scrutiny. We note that Fay pleaded not guilty in her trial and question if she is capable of murder. We even consider the possibility that Josie is the one with skeletons in her closet. Who is the real monster? The lifer with a Hannibal Lecter reputation or the Scottish prison service with its invasive frisking, which appears to draft in the long lost daughter for its own entertainment?

An ongoing series of power struggles throws further questions into the ever-heated mix. Rules such as “no touching” and “no getting upset” are imposed. Mother and daughter are prevented from forging a connection and uniting against the authorities. Fay lives her life through her daughter whilst Josie frantically scrabbles for lost roots in her mother. By half time, a mess of loose ends is looking increasingly desperate, but – without wishing to give too much away – act two saw my first impressions of all four characters swiftly reversed as the relationship between Josie and Fay continues to develop.

By far the cleverest and most disturbing element of this play is its ability to hold up a Sarah Kane-style mirror to the audience, presenting life’s rich tapestry packed with home truths. The production makes you long for your own mother, identifying with Josie’s wish that when you lose one, you might have another to discover. A new layer to unveil. A second chance. A back-up tree-house to hide in should you find yourself turfed out of home. Iron is a bitter pill, but it’s one worth taking.

Iron completed its Scottish tour on 17 November. For more information see www.firebrandtheatre.co.uk.